By Kevin Lund
“Blah. Blah. Blah.”
This is what most consumers hear when exposed to marketing messages, no matter what medium is used. Consumers demand more than catchy slogans and slick ad campaigns. But — in what’s evolved into an overwhelmingly egregious disconnect — most companies struggle to communicate even the most essential messages that will differentiate their brand in today’s crowded, confusing, and expectation-laden marketplace.
With technology making it easier than ever for consumers to block and otherwise avoid advertising and marketing messages as they go about their lives, companies ubiquitously scramble for solutions — ultimately turning to content marketing to help them make and maintain meaningful connections with the marketplace ... to the tune of an estimated $50 billion spent by U.S. businesses for 2015. However, like many marketing innovations that are incubated to solve problems, content marketing could quickly lose its impact.
Those who are wildly successful at content marketing understand the strategy is not just starting a blog and creating social media accounts. It’s a disciplined approach to communicating with a target audience — one offering ample opportunity to tell a simple, human story that will educate, inform, entertain and, most importantly, compel customers in a way that fully captures mind– and market–share through messaging that truly resonates.
Companies must completely re-imagine their approach to connecting with customers. How? By simply communicating with them instead of talking at them. Specifically, speak human. This is not just in a given “handshake moment,” but rather it is a continual friendly engagement with a consumer, or the marketplace at large, that is built primarily by trust and performance.
Below are three strategies that can help you make and maintain meaningful connections and create a lifetime value with customers in ways that’ll set your brand apart in a crowded marketplace, tell an authentic story, foster maximized marketplace engagement, and breed brand loyalty:
1. Recalibrate low-level communications. We have long struggled with linear, low-level, or one-way communication. It is a completely timeless human phenomenon that is at the core of every conflict or stalemate, from the ones we experience at home, work, and in our communities. We focus on transmitting information, but lose sight of the critical need for feedback, response or an actual human exchange of emotions or ideas. However, for decades this was our only way of receiving communication from advertisers and many consumers stomached it because there was no alternative.
Today’s social networking tools can effectively and surreptitiously disguise “reach” with “results,” often only perpetuating linear, low-level communication. For example, you’re on Twitter and Facebook and you’re tweeting and posting five times a day, and perhaps growing a fan and follower base on each like clockwork, with your “strategic” ad buy. But your zealous, disciplined approach doesn’t mean you’re doing it effectively. Who, exactly, are all those followers, friends, and fans? Are you really creating content or telling an authentic story? It might be that you are simply tweeting and posting just to check it off your task list, and that your followers are re-tweeting or liking you for the exact same reason. If that’s the case, then they’re not really followers or actual friends at all.
Connection involves more than just opening a communication channel for that channel’s sake, or doing social media just because someone at some seminar told you that you should. Your handshake moment is where people actually discover the essence of who you are as a brand for the first time. If that’s the case, what are they going to find? Will they be greeted by a sales pitch? A slogan? A press or media kit? Or are they going to find a real person — someone they might want to reach out to, somone greets them with a warm hello? If you’re not asking these questions — let alone answering them — chances are your content is simply traditional advertising disguised as substance wearing a new outfit.
2. Master conversational media. Conversational media insists that we don’t just sell ourselves, but rather, share ourselves. It informs the listener who we are, rather than what we are. We must learn the signals that tell us when to drop the jargon, cut the B.S. and simply talk, authentically, and truthfully, to those we hope might buy our product or service. Yes, we sell things, and so we must provide essential information about policies, performance, and the like, but good content marketing is about providing information and education. Brands shouldn’t have to sell themselves.
An effective mix of messages includes telling people what you do, how you do it, and even why you do it. Then, you draw them in to your embrace with a story that is compelling and authentic. Then, leave them alone to make the choice. Why not influence the decision making process with endearing, enlightening, and empowering messages? Speaking human is about engaging with someone for a mutual benefit: you need this information and I must deliver it in a way that you understand while you need to ask me questions in a way that makes sense. We're having a conversation. We're speaking human.
When the conversation takes place on social channels, participate in the exchange in such a way as to achieve the coveted “handshake moment.” How do you get there? What do you say to influence them to engage with your brand, your business? It’s all about cutting through the jargon, the clutter that clogs the communication pipeline. It’s not about selling your soul. It’s about them.
3. Give them something to talk about. In this new economy of conversation, marketers must master the art of facilitating the relationship between the business and its consumer. For example, the company wants to run a campaign to advertise a specific product offering. The consumer is looking to meet a need or discover an innovation. Content marketers bridge the gap. They create the information the business needs to share and provide the information customers want to receive. The job of today’s content marketer is to work both in the world of traditional media as well as conversational media.
The goal is not bullying, but inviting. Not grabbing attention, but earning and holding attention. Naturally you want audiences to take action. But, it’s the rare brand that understands how the content and story must interact to add real value versus merely seeking to sell a product or service.
Storytelling is an essential human activity and must be the cornerstone of any meaningful content strategy. If the story is the nest, content becomes the baby starlings that grow strong and fly off carrying compelling messages. A story can instantly communicate your history, values, and beliefs, and gives people something to talk about. Unless you have a real story, loyalty is unlikely.
The Conversation Age finds brands in the midst of an evolutionary process. Social media and the overarching digital landscape has afforded them the ability to engage in a transactional dialogue, often giving them the bigger platform and louder voice. This new power is forcing modern companies to become more transparent in their brand storytelling. Thus, the Conversation Age requires modern businesses to educate, inform, even entertain their customers, all while telling a story.
Today, learning how to use conversational techniques in commerce to touch the heart of the customer must be a top priority for modern marketers in any field. No longer is it effective to merely shout at consumers through the one-way megaphone of traditional advertising such as TV and radio spots, and billboard and print ads. Nor, frankly, will consumers stand for it. Instead, sophisticated, modern consumers are demanding transparent, honest, and authentic dialogue.
Kevin Lund is CEO of content marketing firm T3 Custom.